Canadian’s Inside Out copyright lawsuit against Disney and Pixar gets green light

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Sheridan College graduate claims Disney snatched his film Inside Out, about the internal life of a boy controlled by five organs (as opposed to five emotions)

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If you were an animation student at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. Twenty years ago, you probably saw a 14 minute low budget student production live on the inner life of a boy named Lewis and how his behavior is controlled. by five organs, each personified as a character: Brain, Stomach, Colon, Bladder and Heart.

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It was called Inside Out.

Likewise, if you were young at heart in 2015, you almost certainly saw a blockbuster movie about the inner life of a girl called Riley and her personified emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, in a story about memory and moving to a new city, involving the loss of Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, in one of the most devastating animated deaths since Bambi’s mother.

His worldwide turnover for Disney was over $ 850 million plus an Oscar, and it was also called Inside Out.

Whether this coincidence really is a coincidence is at the heart of a long-standing intellectual property dispute, in which student Damon Pourshian has just won a major victory against Disney and his animation studio, Pixar. In short, Ontario court has given the green light to his case against half a dozen Disney affiliates, in which a payment of millions of dollars is at stake.

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Sheridan has a reputation for being a major source of high profile animation talent. This week, for example, saw the release of a trailer for Turn red, set in an animated Toronto styled by director Domee Shi, a Toronto graduate from Sheridan who won an Oscar for her short film Bao, a meditation on Chinese-Canadian motherly love and a very special dumpling.

It is therefore conceivable that a student project at Sheridan would be on the radar of some serious American filmmakers, as Pourshian claims.

He claims that Disney had access to various campus screenings of his film, which won the People’s Choice award at an annual showcase, and that some of his classmates at the time were recruited by Disney. and Pixar. His statement even names four former students who worked for Pixar on Inside Out, but they are not defendants in the lawsuit.

Pourshian’s lawsuit asks the court to find that Pourshian owns the copyright to the screenplay, live production and short film he made in Sheridan, and that the defendants have infringed his copyright with the hit movie. He seeks an injunction, financial damages and the addition of the name of Pourshian to the credits of the film.

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A similar lawsuit in California was voluntarily dismissed in 2018, two months after being filed along with the one in Ontario, court records show.

His claim describes similarities in the plot, even down to minor details like eating cereal from a yellow card, a teacher asking a question that puts the protagonist on the spot, eating lunch alone, and receiving a kiss from his mother at night.

Both films even include a mock ad that highlights the power of the ad over this five-person control room.

Both movies have breakfast scenes with yellow cereal boxes.
Both movies have breakfast scenes with yellow cereal boxes. Photo by Damon Pourshian / Disney /Court documents

These similarities “stretch from the title to general themes, to minute and specific details, none of which can be the result of coincidence,” Pourshian’s statement read.

His legal documents include a chart showing that Pixar’s character Joy is based on Pourshian’s Heart, as both are upbeat and sentimental; Brain and Fear are both tightly coiled, nerdy male characters prone to panic; The stomach and anger are irritable, impulsive and self-centered; Colon and Disgust protect the protagonist’s health, and Bladder and Sadness both feel ignored and of lesser importance, and “big glasses that hide their faces.” For Sadness they are glasses, for Bladder a diving mask.

“It is clear that the counterfeit work (the Pixar film) reproduces the inventive and central concept at the heart of the original works: the behavior and actions of the main ‘external’ character, a school-aged child, are controlled by five” interns “who work together and fight against each other to help the external character navigate their day-to-day life,” the statement read.

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It is not always easy to sue a foreign company in a Canadian court. Much of the legal argument rests on whether the company has a close connection to the province in question.

The lawsuit of Pourshian originally named the Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Disney Enterprises, Disney Shopping, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and American Broadcasting Company, which distributes the Pixar films on the television .

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Disney initially argued that only Disney Shopping had ever done business directly in Ontario, and said Ontario had no jurisdiction over the others.

A 2019 ruling revealed that Ontario in fact had jurisdiction over Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures, which produced the film in part to offer it to Ontario moviegoers, as well as Disney Shopping, but not others.

This new ruling is Pourshian’s successful appeal against that ruling. The Ontario Divisional Court identified errors in this 2019 decision. These included failing to analyze what it means to “carry on a business” in Ontario in light of previous decisions on the matter, and failing to properly explain why Pourshian had an “defensible good cause” based both on his claim and on the evidence of the evenings.

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By reasoning differently, the Ontario Divisional Court also found that Ontario had jurisdiction over Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures, but also over Disney Enterprises, which owns the Inside Out copyright in Canada, and all the others. .

The only entities excluded from Ontario’s jurisdiction in the latter decision were the Walt Disney Corporation, the ultimate parent company of all Disney properties, and the American Broadcasting Company.

Divisional Court Judge Lise Favreau also ordered the Disney defendants to pay Pourshian $ 25,000 in legal costs because he was “substantially” but not fully successful in this appeal. No trial is scheduled.

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